3D printing – the process by which objects are made by layering thousands of sheets of material over one another – is a promising field of technology. The only problem is that it’s an incredibly slow process, which has to date limited its manufacturing applications. Now, a startup called Carbon3D has created a printer that can do in minutes what other devices do in hours (or even days) – anywhere from 25 to 100 times faster.
“Current 3-D printing technology has failed to deliver on its promise to revolutionize manufacturing,” Carbon3D co-founder and CEO Joseph DeSimone said in a statement. “Our CLIP technology offers the game-changing speed, consistent mechanical properties and choice of materials required for complex commercial quality parts.”
3D printing is essentially 2D printing done over and over again. One layer of the object is laid down, then another and so on until the final product is made. The CLIP technology works a little differently: Using a UV-activated resin, light is shined through an oxygen-permeable window at the base of the molding tray. Light is what causes the resin to harden, but oxygen is what keeps it malleable. The Carbon3D printer works by cutting off oxygen and only shining light on desired areas, causing the resin to harden in specified patterns. Observers have likened it to the T-1000 character from the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day for the way objects seem to materialize from a pool of liquid.
Though fast, the technology has its limits. In its current incarnation, it’s only capable of producing objects four inches wide and up to a foot tall. It’s also limited in materials. While it can make objects that range from rigid to quite rubbery, other printers can use stainless steel, titanium, carbon fiber and even Kevlar, which give them a broader manufacturing appeal.
Carbon3D hints that their main target may not be other 3D printers, but rather injection molding and CNC milling. Dentists, for example, use CNC machines to create crowns for patients in about 15 minutes. Using the CLIP technology, that time would be cut by half. The technology becomes even more appealing with scale – entire molds can be done in minutes, whereas a traditional injection molder would take hours.
“We’re really focused on injection molding,” said DeSimone. “That’s got scale and it’s incumbent. Our ability to compete with that—we can match the properties of injection molding, we can print parts with different geometries and different orientations and they look like injection-molded parts. In manufacturing, we think of that as a direction for us to go.”
The devices are not commercially available yet, but are in testing phases with a few different manufacturers, including an automaker and an athletic apparel company. Carbon3D hopes to make take the technology commercial within about a year.